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Post flight MH370 fiasco, Malaysian tourism faces uphill battle

1.7 lakh of its visitors are from India every year, with most travelling between April-June and No

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MUMBAI: “Malaysia, truly Asia!” Or is it? What was once the hottest vacation destinations is now not so popular. All because of the disappearance of Malaysian airline MH370 in 2014. The country’s tourism, which was once booming with international tourists, has now taken a hit as tourists have been avoiding the country in the wake of the incident.

The country has since been reeling to get back on its feet and increase tourist footfall. Although Malaysia ranks ninth in the world for tourist arrivals, it faces severe competition from other countries.

Bollywood has had a long love affair with beautiful locations in Malaysia and the country has heavily promoted in Roy, Shaadi Se Pehle, Yaadein and Shahrukh Khan’s remake of Don as Don 2. In 2016, Tourism Malaysia, together with AirTravel Enterprises India Limited (ATE), introduced the Malaysia Kabali-package deal during the launch of Rajnikant led movie Kabali. This was a part of its strategy to draw Indian travellers to Malaysia where there is already a sizable Indian community.

Travel and tourism is one of the world’s fastest-growing sectors today, with close to $1.6 trillion clocked in bookings in 2017. Each year, the global traveller pool is flooded with millions of new consumers from both emerging and developed markets, many with rising disposable incomes and a newfound ability to experience the world.

As many as 2.8 crore Indians travel to international destinations every year. Places like Dubai, Switzerland, Maldives, Macau, Bali, Singapore, Thailand among few others, have always been popular among Indians. Malaysia, that was once India’s favourite tourist spot, seems to have lost its sheen with newer destinations being discovered by the millennial generation.

While Tourism Malaysia director Mohammed Hafiz Hashim realises the stiff competition in the tourism industry with new emerging tourism destinations, he remains positive that Malaysia is a popular tourist destination among Indians and just needs constant reminders.

According to a 2017 report by TripAdvisor, for globetrotting Indians preferred travelling to Dubai, Singapore, Bangkok and Pattaya, while the evolved and well-heeled Indians sought relatively unexplored destinations such as Genoa in Italy, Corsica in France, Bora Bora and Iceland.

In an effort to diversify the economy and make Malaysia's economy less dependent on exports, the government push to increase tourism has resulted in it being the third largest source of foreign exchange income that accounts for 20 per cent of Malaysia's economy.

The country sees tourists majorly from Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, China, Japan, Korea and India. India has always been in the top 10 markets for Malaysia with a 10 per cent share out of the total 27 million tourists every year. Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board (MTPB) wants to put India in the top five counties by the end of 2018. For Malaysia, 1.7 lakh of its visitors come from India every year, with most travelling between April-June and November-January.

To tap in new consumers, the board now wants to shift focus from the hygiene urban population to tier II and tier III towns. But does the consumer living in a village have budget to spare and travel internationally? Tourism Malaysia director definitely thinks so! Hashim believes that the audience in smaller segments of India definitely has the budget but don't know what to do with the money and that’s where agents help them in planning and deciding. Although the numbers from the smaller segment aren’t astounding with less than 20 per cent growth y-o-y, he is optimistic that it will grow further in the next year.

Travel ads are usually targeted at those with enough funds to spare for travel. Hence, it makes more sense for them to advertise on lifestyle and infotainment channels along with B2B marketing. And that's exactly what most tourism companies do. However, Tourism Malaysia has no plan of launching the campaign on television due to budget constraints and it will only be digital-led since it is cheap, efficient and quick.

The tourism board is trying to get local (Indian) carriers to fly to Malaysia as currently there are no direct outbound flights to Malaysia. Raising the concern, Hashim said, “We only rely on our own Malaysian airlines to carry passengers. If we can get Indian players like Indigo, Jet Airways, Air India or Vistara to fly to us, we can get good numbers.”

For this, Tourism of Malaysia is in conversation with the government of India and private players to get the landing rights for Malaysia. It is confident that the conversation will prove to be a success and direct flights for Malaysia will begin as soon as December 2018.

The challenge for Malaysia now is not just to market itself better than others but also regenerate interest among Indians. The country will also have to change its communication to target the Gen-Z and young consumers. Since the company doesn’t advertise on television or digital at a large scale, it will have a challenging time to ensure its place in a traveller’s bucket list.

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